Connor Roberts is enjoying new-found freedom under interim Burnley boss Mike Jackson after admitting to struggles on and off the pitch during his maiden season with the Clarets.
The 26-year-old left boyhood club Swansea last summer to move to Turf Moor but had to wait until late October to make his debut because of a groin injury and was then hospitalised in December with pneumonia.
Out of the side and a long way from home, Roberts was sliding towards a dark place, but he was helped through it by family and friends and, now a new father and a key part of Burnley’s revival, things appear to be firmly on the up.
“It’s hard to explain,” said Roberts. “I was really down in the dumps. I wasn’t playing, I was injured, I was ill. I didn’t really have a purpose. Even when I started playing when the old manager was here I wasn’t really playing as well as I know I can.
“The last few games I’ve played decent and I think it’s made me realise, when you’re down in those dumps, it can always get better. Now things are going well, I don’t get carried away too much but I think it does make me appreciate it that little bit more.
“You can train your body, you can go in the gym, do this, do that, and not everyone seeks the help with the mental side of it. Luckily for me I had enough people around me not to slide too deep but I’m happy now that everything’s going kind of on an upward slant.”
Right-back Roberts has started all but two of the last 16 games and scored his first goal in last week’s 2-0 victory over Southampton.
Burnley followed that up with a 1-0 win over Wolves to climb out of the relegation zone and can put further pressure on Everton and Leeds, respectively one place below and one place above them, by beating 19th-placed Watford on Saturday.
Sean Dyche’s sacking was greeted with widespread criticism but Roberts praised the changes Jackson has made, saying: “The guy in charge now has changed a few things, he’s let us play with a bit more freedom. We sat down and we realised it’s only us that can change it and so far so good.
“I think there’s players out there that are playing in slightly different roles. It’s obviously worked for these two games and hopefully it continues.
“Because everyone wrote us off, because everyone didn’t give us a chance, the last two wins that belief grows a little bit more and a little bit more. If we did do it, it would be unbelievable. The excitement and the drive you get to prove people wrong probably helps us.”
Jackson is being assisted, among others, by captain Ben Mee, who is currently sidelined through injury, and that is proving another galvanising factor.
“He’s somebody that a lot of the younger lads including myself can look at on the sidelines and kind of want to do it for him,” said Roberts.
“He’s Burnley through and through, he’s done all he has for the club and he’d be as happy as anyone if we managed to do it. He’s a massive figure in the dressing room and on the side of the pitch and we all want to play for him as well as we want to play for everyone next to us when we’re on the field.”